Here's a post about my experience with Jaroslav Prucha when he built for me the first Prucha gold sparkle banjo made, in homage to the old style 6 Gibson instruments. I first contacted him in January 2015 as I had seen the banjo pot on his website which was engraved and gold plated in the style 6 manner and asked him if he was up for building a complete instrument using gold sparkle binding and a burl maple veneer for the resonator.Not only was he willing but he was also almost as excited as myself by the project. The banjo would be a challenge as it contained elements he had not used before namely the binding , the veneer, stainless steel frets and the exact duplicate engraving that I wanted from one particular example of an old style 6. I ended up sourcing the binding and veneer in February of that year as it was much harder to obtain in the Czech Republic. I sent both items to him and we were off!
At all stages I received photos of the progress and regular email to resolve detail and settle specifications. This was not something I expected from a builder as busy as he obviously is. First came pictures of the resonator in its raw state ,then the neck and then the exciting pictures of the staining at which Jaroslav is a real master. I tried not to be too impatient and only contacted him when asked to resolve detail. When pictures of the banjo in lacquer came they arrived out of the blue and I could sense his excitement with the way it was turning out. The neck wood, specially chosen, was stunning as was the colour and binding which now really came into their own. The inevitable gaps between communication raised the suspense now and I could hardly wait to see the finished instrument.
One morning it happened. I was eating breakfast and checking email at the same time when a barrage of email arrived from the Czech Republic and I was able to watch almost in real time as the banjo was constructed. A fabulous experience. The banjo even in the photos looked stunning. Then there was a silence of about an hour and I guessed what was happening ... The banjo was getting its first road test. Soon the emails resumed and now the excitement was real on both sides it sounded really good!
From start to finish was about 6 months and due to the level of communication there were no hitches and progress flowed smoothly. One thing was lacking from my point of view... Sound files. But I didn't have to wait long. The week after final construction was completed, which Jaroslav uses to let the banjo settle and make final adjustments, emails arrived and their were the sound files made by two really fine Czech players. One can be found on my home page.
Last of all came the hardest part. An email arrived with a tracking number and the banjo was on its way from The Czech Republic to Ireland. Nothing for two days except that it had left the Czech Republic and then,just I was departing for a Bluegrass festival in Wales,came details of its progress in Ireland. The banjo and I actually passed on the road, me going one way and it the other. Let me tell you it was hard to be at the festival knowing that there was that special package waitingat home, still unopened.Three days from the Czech Republic to Ireland was Impressive and even more impressive; the banjo was in tune when I finally got home and opened the package. It was thankfully in one piece due to the excellent packing even though it was shipped without a case. Altogether one of the most pleasurable buying experiences I have ever had and at all times Jaroslav made you feel in the loop and important. If I had the money and the need for another banjo, which I don't , I would do it all again just for fun. Another plus is I have all the photos and correspondence on my computer as a reminder of that special experience. If you want to see the banjo in question it is now proudly featured on the Prucha banjos website. There are also photos from the entire build on my homepage in a file called gold sparkle.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015 @4:48:47 PM
That's Jarda. Once a buyer establishes a relationship with him he very often sends surprise photos. Be glad you live where the delivery is much faster than here in the states! Knowing that the arrival will be longer here can be agonizing.
About 18 months after I bought my Diamond Point, my strap broke, dropping the banjo onto a concrete sidewalk. The bottom edge of the back, directly below the tailpiece took the hit, and it was a bad one; the resonator wall split in all 4 directions at the point of impact, and the cracks went up both sides of the sidewalls, with one side splitting almost all the way to the heel.
The banjo bounced, a very sickening sound, then landed on its face in the grass. The neck and rim were undamaged, and the resonator back was not even scratched. I tuned it up and played the gig, and it still sounded pretty good.
I was sure the reso was beyond repair, and sent him pictures. He asked me to send it back, and I did. Greg Boyd loaned me a resonator for the following 6 months, and I was completely sure Jarda would send a new replacement. I was certainly willing to pay for one.
Suddenly, I got about 6 photos from him. For whatever reasons of his own, he decided to repair the original, and did an astonishingly good job of restoring what I thought was unsalvageable. When it came back, only the very worst spot, the point of impact, was noticeable, but so faintly that I have to point it out to others. All the other massive damage is invisible.
And though I tried my best to pay him for the work, he refused to take a penny. He said it was a challenge he enjoyed. Needless to say, I hold immense respect for him as a person and as a banjo maker.
Czechs take great pride in their workmanship. In Jarda's case, his pride is fully justified! Now, as time has gone on, there is nothing in that repair that has changed or failed in any way. I still don't know what he did to accomplish it.
bill forster Says:
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 @12:42:13 AM
I've heard several other stories like yours and that coupled with my experience make me respect him even more. Jarda was quite excited by this banjo as it came together. I asked him when he sent pictures of it in stain, showing the brilliant job he had done,whether he liked this work and he sent straight back "I love it".That love shows in every part of my banjo.I heard that Eric Schlange is looking for stories about luthiers and so I composed this little blog and hope to send it to him shortly
Richard McVicker Says:
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 @4:53:04 AM
Looks like you have found a real treasure.
bill forster Says:
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 @6:23:36 AM
The banjo is certainly a treasure Richard. It looks like a piece of jewellery and sounds great. There are a couple of sound files on this page. The experience of buying and seeing it made was however priceless.
Friday, December 25, 2015 @11:40:00 PM
Prucha is a great guy to know, but I sure would not want to work for him! He's an obsessive perfectionist, and the toughest critic on his products of all.
If he thinks his work turned out so well he's tickled, then the person who gets the banjo will surely find it spectacular.
But even Jarda admits to the great banjo mystery- Why does one really good banjo turn out to be better than another, when everything is as identical as only a perfectionist can make it? When we talk about this, he just shrugs, but when pressed hard, he will come up with a very short list of his banjos that somehow got the magic.
I've only had the good fortune to play one of them. The original owner played the living daylights out of it before he finally ordered a new replacement. When it came in as a partial trade on the new one, it needed a complete fret replacement, and a massive amount of work on the fretboard which had pits as deep as a crater in some spots.
The pits are filled with something very good, and it now plays as smooth as silk, but they're still very evident cosmetically. The rest of the banjo looks exactly what a person would expect from a 17 year old instrument that was well cared for and played hard and very often- it's all good, but there are lots of fine scratches and dings from normal age and playing wear.
And the sound is very hard to define in words. The closest I can come is 'friendly'. It has a vintage to it like the vintage of an exceptionally fine wine that was superb when it was new, and age has only mellowed it and made it… friendly. If it could talk, it would say "Been there, done that. Let's do it one more time." Very forgiving. Full of the best things Prucha tries to make in all of them. Sort of like a mature woman who's no longer youthful, but still as beautiful in age as she was in youth.
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